Advancing Your Career – Originally Published in Inside Logistics

“What can I do to get the promotion? It feels like the only solution is to leave the company and look for a new opportunity.”

This was the question posed to me earlier this week by a business development representative working within the transportation industry. Because I’m in the recruitment business, it’s not an unusual question for me to be asked. My answer may have been a surprise.

“There are a few things you need to carefully review before looking outside your current company,” was my response.

While we don’t know each other well, I was certainly happy to chat for a few minutes about some key issues that need to be considered when seeking career advancement. In this particular case the individual’s career has been focused on sales and the desire was to move into sales management.

Regardless of the specific area of the business, here are a few things that need to be considered when looking at career advancement and a potential move. The first is to focus on staying in your current organization. This is particularly true in the case of the individual I spoke with, who had invested a considerable number of years in her organization. In today’s environment companies place an ever-increasing value on employees with longevity who understand and fit into their specific culture. While the grass may often look greener on the other side of the fence, I firmly believe that careers are best built with substantial periods of time with a single employer. It takes time to learn a new environment and the specifics required for a new position; therefore effectiveness is limited significantly with too many career moves.

Secondly, it’s important to have honest and open discussions with management about your career aspirations. There’s no question that every successful company wants a strong bench of talent that can be relied upon when management positions become available. It may sound simple, but I’m surprised at how many people have not sat down with their manager to share their career goals. The feedback that goes both ways in a discussion like this has tremendous impact on both the future of the business as well as individual career moves. In almost every situation senior management wants to know who the up-and-coming potential managers will be, and straightforward discussions around this issue are the best way for both sides to plan for the future.

In the same vein, discussions with trusted peers and subordinates can be very helpful in becoming self-aware about specific strengths and weaknesses and how these will affect future advancement opportunities. Of course this requires a tremendous desire for honesty and focused inner reflection on the information received. It’s possible you may hear lots of positives, but be prepared for critical information as well. Being willing to act on these perceived weaknesses can be a key determining factor in whether or not a promotion will be warranted.

Thirdly, seeking out a career mentor can be an extremely valuable decision. Likely it’s someone who’s further down the road with experience and expertise who’s willing to honestly share insight about their own path and how it might influence the decisions you make. This doesn’t need to be a formal relationship, although that can be very helpful. It can be as simple as seeking out a person who has some time to share. It’s been my experience that many people who have achieved significant positions of responsibility are more than happy to talk about their experiences, and lend a hand to those who are truly interested and motivated.

Finally, make sure you fully understand the business you work in. I am often surprised when I meet people who have worked for a number of years within a company yet don’t have a crystal clear understanding of their company’s core business. For example, if you’re a salesperson with a trucking company I believe it’s important for you to spend time on the freight dock with operations staff to fully understand exactly what’s going on. If possible spend time in a truck witnessing what a driver’s day actually looks like. This would apply to anyone who’s in a function that supports the core. Those employees who understand the essence of the business have a much greater opportunity for career advancement.

So before you jump ship take the time to carefully review your options with your current employer. Be fully prepared to hear about your strengths as well as those areas you need to work on. Your self-awareness and willingness to act on the information you receive will have a very significant impact on your potential career advancement.

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